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A Pigeon and a Boy: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
The feeling I had when reading a Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev that I had entered the world of a Chagall painting. In fact, what Chagall is to paint, Shalev is to words.
First they both create intense, detail-packed scenes.
Marc Chagall wastes no space as every square inch of his canvas is filled with vibrant and powerful colors and detail. A Marc Chagall painting is a feast for the eyes. These details makes the extraordinary events more plausible. Shalev's rich sensory details allow the reader not only to see, but to touch, taste and hear and fully enter the scene. The story of one of the main characters, The Baby, starts:
That day began as many other's in the baby's life, with his eyes opening as always before those of the other children. With his skin feeling the coolness and warmth of the air....With his ears listening to the male pigeons squabbling on the roof, their nails scraping the drainpipes, the hands of the woman in charge of the kibbutz children's house toiling in the small kitchen. With his nose smelling that the porridge is already cooking there, the margarine softening, the jam reddening in little dishes."
For Shalev memory is a close up lens of details: the young woman who's knees never stopped jiggling, the taste of pickles, his mother's wide brimmed yellow hat, the doctor dipping cookie after cookie into lemon and tea, his brother skipping from rock to rock while he plodded along, the smell of hot dust, the blue handkerchief that is used for tears of joy and loss. Shalev writes:
There are some people whose sensory organs capture reality for them. But with me, my sensory organs mediate between reality and memory, and not every organ in its realm. Sometimes my nose connects sound to image, sometimes my ear feels, my eye recalls aromas, my fingers see.
Chagall, like Shalev, loves the Bible and it forms the undercurrent or backdrop of their work. The subject matter of many of Chagall's most well known works such as Rachel Hides Her Father's Household Gods and Solitude are the familiar tales from the Old Testament.
Even Chagall's work which is not about a biblical theme has icons of Judaism: A chuppah (marriage canopy), a talis (prayer shall), a torah.
In A Pigeon and a Boy, the narrator, a tour guide, takes us through Israel, before it became a state and after, and that tour includes over three thousand years of historical reference. In one site, Moses is on Mount Nebo in another the The Boy dispatches a dove like Noah in the ark, in yet another, points out where Samuel and Samson once had stood. More than the direct mention of biblical places and persons is the echoing of the language of the Bible. When a building contractor points and pronounces: "Let there be a wall" and "Let there be a window" and ..."Let there be a deck," we hear the Genesis creation story. The Boy, like the first man, Adam, "...did not walk ahead of not behind the girl. He walked abreast of her." Even in the handling of pigeons we hear the Jewish liturgy of Yom Kippur. Instead of "who shall live and who shall die," Shalev tells of Miriam, the pigeon trainer, who painstakingly records in her book (not the book of life),"...which pigeons and landed first and which last, which had managed to pass easily through the bars or the trap door and which had not."
Both artists, painter and writer incorporate the realistic side by side with the fantastic. Animals and humans have special powers of levitation, flight, telepathy, and telekinesis. Chagall's lovers take flight in a brilliantly blue sky, above the Eiffel Tower and the rooftops of Paris Houses. The everyday becomes magical.
In A Pigeon and a Boy, there is the scene when a wealthy businessman enters a street in pre-1948 Tel Aviv driving a large American Ford Thunderbird. "Suddenly a hush fell on the street. Boys lifted their heads from games of marbles. Girls skipping rope froze in mid-twirl. Men fell silent, licking their lips. Women became Lot's wife, pillars of salt." In this world where reality is shaped by special powers, birds can deliver love and comfort and even death can be challenged and to some measure beaten.
In a dreamlike atmosphere Chagall and Shalev share many of the same images. For Chagall, it was nostalgia for the village he left behind in Russia. This village appears and reappears in numerous pieces. For Shalev, it is one woman's nostalgia for her home in Tel Aviv, a man's overwhelming desire to have as house of his own, and a people's unwavering longing for their homeland. Other common images are birds, which abound in Chagall's work and which are central of the story of Shalev's tale.
In addition to shared techniques and symbols, Chagall and Shalev both believe in the power of love to transcend and heal. Chagall's lovers are elevated above the world. They float, they fly, they spring upside down and do head stands. Nothing holds down love, not even gravity.
A Pigeon and A Boy is the story of love conquering even death and of love healing a broken soul. In the midst of a battle, the pigeon flies to carry its message of life, and the war falls silent.
"The pigeon ascended rapidly. Above the flames, above the smoke, above the gunshots, above the shouts, to the sky blue, the silence. Homeward. To Her." And a man whose confidence and soul had been crushed, is restored by his love of a woman and a house and their love of him. "I built and was built, I loved and was loved, my soul grew a new skin, a roof, a floor, a wall."
The magic and sensory details, the dreams and hope in A Pigeon and A Boy, like the work of Chagall, leave us richer for the experience.
In this unlikely subject, the reader is treated to learning the habits and handling of homing pigeons that served as reliable means of communication during the British Mandate of the land of Israel until 1948.
It is hard to do this story justice with a synopsis or a review. The power of the novel is in the crafting of the tale as it unfolds, with the main characters--although beautifully detailed--remaining nameless but for their functions as pigeon handlers. Not so the tour guide, whose life is unraveling before it is put together again with a new love.
A great book selection for a book group, as it covers several interesting issues to discuss.
Talia Carner, author,
Puppet Child and China Doll
I suppose you'd say I enjoyed this tale, where the battle is the background, the war between palestine and israel is not the centerpoint, and the reader is not embroiled in the brutality. It is the people who leap from the page.
I am reminded of Masha Hamilton's novels about the Middle East and her ability to evoke the essence of the land and the people, wshether Israeli or Arab.
A Pigeon and a Boy: A Novel